Woman, Life, Freedom: A Monodrama for Solo Violin & SSAA Choir

Commissioned by and written for Negar Afazel (Violin), this work is dedicated to valorous Iranian women for their ineffable resilience and fight for freedom.

April 15, 2024 | by Negar Afazel

“Woman, Life, Freedom,” the slogan of the recent women-led protests in Iran, is a multi-movement piece for Solo Violin and SSAA choir, based on the poetry of female Persian poets from the 18th to the 21st century. Composers Anna Pidgorna, Jane K “Evgeniya Kozhevnikova”, Sarah Rimkus, and Bahar Royaee each composed one movement of this piece, with monologues written by myself which serve as my compositional debut. This piece premiered at Peabody on March 2, with conductor Dr. Beth Willer and the Peabody Camerata.

Poster for “Woman, Life, Freedom” concert

The texts for the four movements are based on poems I have a strong personal attachment with due to their message and poetic voice. The poets Forough Farrokhzad, Simin Behbahani, Mahin Amid, Jaleh Esfahani, and Táhirih were strong, brave women who were ahead of their time. Although they were rejected by the more masculine poetry industry of the day, and even by society for their progressive tone and words, they kept fighting for different kinds of freedom in their lives—just like the women in Iran are right now. This project was inspired by the artistic potential of collaborations between the performer, composers, and the choir: a collaborative work that could symbolize a diverse world that goes beyond cultural barriers and empowers women to be leaders.

The poets’ life stories were also very inspirational to me; three of them (Jaleh, Mahin, Simin) were forced into migrating to other countries where they had to stay for most of their lives, Tahirih was executed for removing her head covering in public, and Forough was killed in a tragic car accident at the age of 31. While selecting the poems for this work, I heard their strong, feminine voices through their words, and thought about everything happening in the world right now. I was reminded how easy it is for the people who are privileged enough to voice their words to forget what freedom really means. Freedom is something so tangible to some, but to others it is a dream and hope cried out through poetry, music, and other forms of art.

The Violins of Hope generously lent me one of the violins from their priceless collection. This collection of string instruments, mostly violins, were used and owned by Jews during WWII, which were collected through Holocaust survivors. The entire piece was performed on this violin at its premiere. Because of my Jewish heritage and the emotional weight of this piece, I was honored to hold one of these violins, a privilege one could only dream of. I am inspired by the power of the stories of the lives that were taken away, and the people who kept the sparks of hope for liberation even in the darkest hours of human history. The voices that can never be silenced will sing again and again through music.

The particular violin that I was fortunate enough to play is called “The Auschwitz Violin”, which was played on at Auschwitz concentration camp. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. When I received the violin and was able to play it during the days preceding the premiere, I kept thinking about the fingers that touched and played on that instrument, the feelings that were poured into it, and the sound that came out of it at the time. I thought to myself that the music was a shelter for the owner of the violin and others around them—a window through which they cried out their fears and expressed their loss, mourning, loneliness, and hope. 

To work with strong and adroit women (the composers, the conductor, and the choir) to make this event happen reminded me more than ever how much we need each other to create and build something new, make a change, move forward, and stay hopeful. Throughout my performance, I thought of those who gave their lives for these very values. 

As an artist, woman, immigrant, and one who has been a minority in my own country and everywhere else that I have lived, this work tells a story reflective of my life—one of immigration, exile, separation from loved ones, lost friends, oppression, and a fight for freedom and social justice. As a daughter in a family of human rights activists and academics, I have always been motivated to create original works that can respond to and reflect the suffering and heartbreak of the women and young girls of my beloved homeland, Iran.  

I received feedback from many people who attended the concert either in person or virtually, and this message was clearly delivered—they had a moving experience through this program. I could not be more proud of the Peabody Camerata and the fantastic job they did through their artistry under Dr. Willer’s skillful leadership. 

This unique collaboration with four composers, a process filled with exchanging ideas and understanding each other through this work and connecting to the text in different ways, was so valuable to me. The result was something so much more than the sum of its parts, with different musical expressions for the concepts familiar to women—longing for freedom and peace, love and separation from loved ones, and freedom of expression—no matter where they come from. In our world today, we witness the suffering of women, mothers, daughters, and young girls all around the world—those who have been brutally killed, those who are separated from their families or imprisoned, and those who are mourning the loss of their children and loved ones. Thinking about all the brutality and injustice we witness in our time, I decided to dedicate the premiere performance to all women suffering under oppression, war, and injustice towards them.  


Negar Afazel

Violin Performance

DMA 2024

Negar Afazel (she/her), originally from Tehran, Iran, is a DMA student, studying violin performance at the Peabody Institute.